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Aug 2, 2010

Bleiberg claims favourites tag at A-League launch

Miron Bleiberg made the grandest statement at the A-League's glamourous season launch by declaring his Gold Coast United side are favourites to win the competition at their second attempt.

• Soccernet's A-League season preview

Coaches and players from all 11 clubs met in Sydney on Monday to wet the head of the 2010-11 season, the sixth edition of the A-League, with four of the coaches meeting their counterparts for the first time after joining clubs in the off-season.

John van't Schip of new boys Melbourne Heart, fellow Dutchman Rini Coolen from Adelaide United, North Queensland Fury's Czech boss Franz Straka and one of the shrinking number of Australian club bosses in Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold were the new faces on show.

But it was a well-known A-League personality in Bleiberg who stole the headlines with a typically bold prediction of title success for Gold Coast after last season's respectable finals appearance in their inaugural campaign. After announcing his ambitions on stage, Bleiberg told Australian FourFourTwo: "Listen, I'm the leader of the team. I have to show confidence. Imagine if I say, 'I think we're going to lose'? I believe it. If you notice we didn't make many changes because I trust my team."

Fury boss Straka, who has one of the toughest tasks this season in charge of the side many predict will prop up the table after an off-season of turmoil, revealed he negotiated with club officials over Skype and received advice from Sydney FC's championship winning coach and countryman Vitezslav Lavicka before deciding to make the move to North Queensland.

"Vitezslav said I would be surprised at how exciting it is to live and work with players in Australia," Straka told SBS. "I must say that from what I've seen so far that he's right. It's a big challenge and experience for me but I know that I can give something to the club."

Straka insisted the Fury fans would excuse poor results if his men gave their all on the pitch: "My philosophy is very simple: we have to do everything for our fans. If we give a 100 per cent on the field the fans would appreciate this. It is very important that we do well. If we lose a game but put our hearts into it the fans would say 'ok we lost but the team did its best'. The players must be proud of their jersey and their club."

Wellington Phoenix boss Ricki Herbert, fresh from his heroics with New Zealand at the World Cup, was typically understated in his predictions for the season. "Like any other manager I want to be in the finals," he told Foxsports. "That was really exciting last year. We certainly did the club proud in those achievements. The first hurdle is to make that top six again and who knows from there. We're always ambitious for [the championship] as well. We've retained a good group of players. We'll be strong this year."

The FFA took the opportunity to launch a new 'Fans of the Year' award which is sure to be a controversial point of discussion among supporters, particularly given the lack of judging criteria at this stage. New A-League boss Lyall Gorman, formerly chairman and chief executive of Central Coast Mariners, said the award had been created to recognise a "point of difference" for football when compared to rival sporting codes in Australia's competitive market.

In other A-League news, North Queensland have announced the signing of Uganda international Eugene Sseppuya. The 27-year-old journeyman striker arrives after stints in Serbia and the United States.

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